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The Neo-Confederate Roots of Off-Year Governor Elections

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Why are so many governor elections in non-presidential years? The answer depends on state, like so much else in American life. But in Florida at least, the election was moved off the presidential year in order to preserve white supremacist power:

Or maybe just like 1961.

That’s the year Florida Democrats changed the rules.

And to increase turnout and win, Florida Democrats should change the rules back in 2016.

According to legendary journalist Martin Dyckman, in 1961, Democrats were scared of presidential election cycles screwing up their dominance of state government, specifically Nixon vs. Kennedy.

So, instead of allowing JFK to be a drag on the (conservative) Democratic ticket, the Florida Legislature amended the Constitution, requiring the Governor and the Florida Cabinet to be elected in midterm, non-presidential election cycles.

This resulted in racist segregationist Democrat Haydon Burns serving an abbreviated two-year term. In 1968, the new rules were further cemented in the Florida Constitution.

Today, because of this change, about 2.5 million presidential cycle voters entirely ignore the Governor and the Florida Cabinet.

In short, knowing that poorer and younger voters don’t come out for midterm elections, the Florida white supremacist power structure changed the state constitution to ensure voting at a time that would more likely protect their interest. I’d like to know more about this and explore why states have selected their gubernatorial elections on a particular date.

I will also suggest that the staggering of elections is pretty unhealthy for our democracy because the proliferation of political ads turns more people off than on and seeing them 2 or 3 times every 4 years instead of once probably reduces public interest. That’s strictly my speculation though.

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  • Aimai

    I can see that the staggering of election cycles made a lot of sense when the country was younger and you wouldn’t necessarily want the entire power structure swept out of power at one time or everyone distracted by campaigning at the same time. But I definitely agree that the staggering of races–especially given that voting day is not a national holiday and that it is quite difficult for poor people or peoplel engaged in child or eldercare to get out to vote on a specific day–is very problematic.

    In re this recent election I’ve already posted my opinion which was that Deval Patrick should have gamed the system by running and then stepping down in time for the next presidential election for just this reason.

    Also in re this recent election the Democrats have really botched their outreach to their base/small money donors by bombarding the same fairly small number of people with increasingly hysterical, doom laden, pleas. I’m pretty sure I gave less this cycle than I have during presidential cycles because the dems didn’t have a national strategy that I could support with a single check–instead they asked people to engage at a microlevel with hundreds of small races around the country each of which had an imperceptible chance (from an outsider’s point of view) of winning. I think this just doesn’t work as a strategy to either get out the vote locally or get out the money nationally. There is a completely different psychology for presidential election years.

    • c u n d gulag

      The e-mails I got this year were absolutely chock full of hysteria – not unnecessarily, mind you.

      I’m still unemployed, and had no money to donate. I tried to send back replies to that effect, but it didn’t make a bit of difference. I got getting bombarded electronically every single day!
      I did, though, instead of sending money I didn’t have, make calls from my house for our Congressman and some local candidates.

      Once again, in this election, the Democrats failed to explain how dangerously insane the Republicans and their policies are.

      Once again, they didn’t send unifying messages across America to make voters take a look at the party as a whole, and how getting or keeping it in power is critical to this country:
      – They didn’t talk much about issues like what options there are to begin to start to balance income inequality.
      Like, raising minimum wage; and all wages; limiting work-hours (especially without overtime); and other economic issues that are important to, and would benefit, what’s left of the overworked middle class, and raise all of the boats – unlike “Trickle-down Economics.
      – Limiting corporate power.
      – Increasing taxes on the wealthy.
      – Campaign finance reform.
      – Disclosure of donors by political groups.
      – Demonstrate and stress that yes, though far from perfect, the PPACA (Obamacare) HAS worked, IS working, and WILL continue to work. Instead, too many Democrats ran away from one of their President’s and parties singular important accomplishments – along with saving our, and the world’s economies.
      Why, oh why, didn’t Ms. Grimes in KY make ad after ad about Mitch’s blatant lie when he promised to keep KYNECT, while tearing out Obamacare root and branches – which is impossible! Instead, she went around firing guns and rifles.
      -There are countless other issues affecting us all – including child care, retirement, and very importantly, women’s health and reproductive options.

      Obviously, in midterm elections, local, district, and state issues take precedence.
      But we are all part of a rapidly declining nation, and “We the people” need to take a holistic approach to our problems.

      But Republicans keep using ‘divide and conquer,’ because the Democrats are too easily divisible and don’t stand together – while the Republicans, do.
      There’s strength in numbers.
      And voters like seeing strength.

      Will Rogers famous line about not being a member of an organized party because he’s a Democrat, still applies…

      oy…………….

      • cpinva

        “Demonstrate and stress that yes, though far from perfect, the PPACA (Obamacare) HAS worked, IS working, and WILL continue to work. Instead, too many Democrats ran away from one of their President’s and parties singular important accomplishments – along with saving our, and the world’s economies.”

        this. instead, most of the democratic nominees seemed to run around like chickens with their heads cut off. instead of coming out and saying, loudly and with great certainty, that “Obamacare” is one of the best federal social programs since Social Security, in 1935. it passed with no republican votes, because republicans, as a rule, do not care about anyone not rich & white. they acted like they were ashamed to be a member of the same political party as the president. people took them at their word, and voted for the other guy.

    • Ahuitzotl

      the Democrats have really botched their outreach to their base/small money donors by bombarding the same fairly small number of people with increasingly hysterical, doom laden, pleas. I’m pretty sure I gave less this cycle than I have during presidential cycles

      This, exactly.

  • D. C. Sessions

    Don’t forget that some States go a step farther and hold elections on odd-numbered years, because even US Congressional elections are too high-profile.

    • FMguru

      Yeah, I’m pretty sure Virginia’s off-off-year election for Governor is that way for a reason.

      • Snarki, child of Loki

        Gotta remember, back 200 years ago: no TV, no internet, few books and infrequent newspaper/magazines: elections were entertainment.

        And kids these days think that they invented Reality Shows, harrumph harrumph.

        Pardon, just spotted some clouds that need a good yelling at.

        • LeeEsq

          They usually provided you with booze and food to.

          • cpinva

            “They usually provided you with booze and food to.”

            works for me!

      • BlueLoom

        I don’t know the history of why we in Virginia hold state elections elections when we do (odd-numbered years). I can say only that in Virginia, it’s ALWAYS election year. It really gets tedious.

      • drkrick

        My guess is that insider/organization/machine types know that a low turnout election is easier for them to swing with the people they more or less control than a high turnout election. When the insiders are neoconfederate, as they were in Florida in the ’60’s, that’s the interest that’s being served. In other places, not.

        There’s also an argument that the local races get more attention when they’re not competing with the national ones for oxygen. Probably more of a respectable justification than a reason.

        • Pat

          I think you’re right about the motive.

          These are good discussions, but moving governor elections to presidential years is a partial solution.

          What if we got automatic registration on a number of possible events: say, getting a driver’s license, or paying taxes, or receiving federal benefits? What if everybody got mail-in ballots? The latter appears to be working well in a number of states, and would actually fix the problem of taking time off work.

        • That’s just the reason given for having municipal elections in Los Angeles in odd-numbered yrs. The result, of course, is about 25% turn-out.

          I think a law that invalidates elections in which less than than say, 55% of those eligible to vote showed up would be a good idea. W/o a quorum, the vote is tossed right out until enough of the sheep show to consent.

          • efgoldman

            That’s just the reason given for having municipal elections in Los Angeles in odd-numbered yrs. The result, of course, is about 25% turn-out.

            Even in true blue MA, Boston holds its municipal elections in odd-numbered years, Used to drive me crazy.
            Smaller town elections are often in the spring. You can count the voters on your fingers and toes.

            • PSP

              Smaller towns have town meetings some long cold evening each year. The Selectmen can’t spend a penny without authorization from whoever decides to show up and attend until well after midnight.

              I can recall the time the teachers left the Town Meeting after the Highway Department guys voted for the School budget, but before the teachers had voted for the Highway budget. That went over poorly.

            • cpinva

              “Smaller town elections are often in the spring.”

              that’s the practice in the va city I live in, municipal elections are held in may. turnout tends to be in the 20-30% range.

    • TriforceofNature

      I don’t know the origin but in NYC mayoral elections are in odd numbered years. Threw me off when I moved here, I’d never heard of odd year elections.

  • shah8

    So, every couple of years, people are tortured amidst their entertainment?

    No wonder people don’t vote!

  • TriforceofNature

    Isn’t a better solution attacking voter ID laws, a national Election Day holiday, things that make it easier to get to the polls? If people don’t vote because they’re disenfranchised I sympathize, but people who just don’t vote in midterms because of apathy? That’s on them. Maybe we can also educate people that midterms matter and to stop being special snowflakes and expecting, as aimai said, artisanal vote farmers.

    • McAllen

      But it’s likely always going to be the case that midterm elections are going to have lower turnout that high-profile presidential elections, and that’s particularly true among groups that skew Democratic. And it’s not just the people who don’t vote who suffer the consequences; it’s all of us.

      Not that I disagree that we should be attacking voter ID laws and instituting an Election Day holiday, and that those things are probably higher priority than eliminating midterm elections.

      • Pat

        We could push a forced choice: Mail-in ballots or Mandatory Holiday. Either would do the job.

      • efgoldman

        The only way to eliminate midterm elections is to change the Constitution so that Senators, congress and the president are all co-terminus.
        Not likely. Gregor Samsa’s plans have a greater likelihood (i.e. none) of being enacted.
        I think the Dems ought to push the election day holiday, though. Then, when the Repubs block it, we can ask why they hate voting.

  • Scotius

    Ferguson, MO also has off year elections. I somehow doubt that turnout is going to be a problem for the next one. I know that holdinmg elections on a Tuesday and getting rid of absentee and early voting makes it much harder, but voters need to realize that voting can literally be a matter of life and death. One of the reasons that voting is going to be so much harder in GOP strongholds from now on is that voters didn’t appreciate this back in 2010.

    • Aimai

      Considering that they have already lost a bunch of registrations I wouldn’t be so sure of that.

    • drkrick

      Yes, I think we can count a remarkably coincidental series of errors when those elections next roll around.

    • Pat

      Oh, Justice Dept, where are you now?

  • West of the Cascades

    In Oregon it seems to be an artifact of the timing of statehood – the state constitution was approved in 1857, held a gubernatorial election in 1858, and Congress made Oregon a state in early 1859. Elections for governor have been held every four years since 1858.

  • Jean-Michel

    This article is confusing. Florida Democrats were afraid Nixon vs. Kennedy would screw up their chances of winning state offices, so they passed a law a year after the election? A law that didn’t go into effect until 1966, too late to affect any potential election involving JFK? I assume what actually happened is that JFK convinced Florida Dems that the national party was drifting leftward (though the three previous Democratic nominees should’ve been sufficient proof of that) and that people voting for future Democratic presidential nominees might be inclined to split their ticket and choose a hypothetical liberal Republican for governor, instead of a segregationist Democrat. As it turned out, by 1966 the state Democratic party had moved to the left (Burns was primaried out by liberal Robert King High) and the GOP was the segregationists’ new home. So the conservative Dems’ strategy was 50% effective: it’s helped keep the governor’s mansion in the hands of conservatives, but not generally conservative Democrats.

  • tomstickler

    Kentucky elects governors in odd-numbered years. Before 1984, state Senators and Representatives were also elected in odd-numbered years.

  • jonp72

    I used to live in Virginia where I was active in the Democratic Party in Arlington. The reason I heard for the odd-year state elections is that it was pushed by the segregationist Dems of the Harry Byrd regime who didn’t like the leftward movement of the party on civil rights. The odd-year cycling has since generally built in an advantage for Republicans, who control both houses of the state legislature.

    • Do you know when Virginia changed to the odd-year cycling?

      • FMguru

        Looking at the Wikipedia list of Virginia Governors, I see that gubernatorial elections have been held in odd-numbered years since before the Civil War. Huh. I stand corrected.

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